Artists in our Town

Thomas Langan - American Folk Art
By Margaret Roberts | Feb 26, 2014

I know not one thing about sculpture I’ll be the first to admit. Thomas Langan, our featured artist this month, is a carver and I do know enough about art in general to realize that he’s something very special.

His wife Penny sent me an email explaining that she and Tom are new to the area and she noticed that The Mountaineer is very supportive of local artists. Her husband Tom, she explained, is an exceptional carver. She felt his accomplishments would be worthy of an article in the paper. When she sent photos and articles about him it was evident that he creates exceptional works of art.

Tom comes from an artistic family. His grandfather was an accomplished builder and architect and his sister Noel is also a gifted artist. Fortunately, his wife Penny is very supportive, in fact, his biggest fan. Growing up he had middle school classes in art and a few architectural courses in college.

“A football injury kept Tom out of school for a year, which influenced his self-sufficiency and ability to make the most of his isolation by drawing,” she said.

Born in 1942, Tom began carving decoys in his early 20s. These decoys, known as gaming birds, were made for sport not as a hobby. His style was influenced by the functional design of early American decoys. His success at that time was measured by the number of ducks he attracted, not by aesthetics.

Tom made carving his career at age 35. Working for himself was always a goal but not until then did it become a possible reality.

“A wife, two children, a house and dog…giving up a steady paycheck was frightening but ultimately, immensely satisfying,” he said.

His objects grew to include domestic, farm and forest animals; trade signs; whirligigs; salt water fish and weathervanes. His greatest design influences are self taught and naïve artists, primitives and folk artists. His preferred medium is wood and most of his carvings are of red cedar.

Red cedar is what pencils are made of and he has a stash of 10’x10’ cedar parkway light poles donated by a friend. He uses only aged wood to create a special patina and it is also eco friendly. He uses a large variety of tools, both antique and contemporary, to create the look he wants.

Tom’s work is so authentic that it is often mistaken for antique. In a prestigious antique book was a photographic of one of his birds labeled “work of an unknown artist from the turn of the century.” A swan he carved and sold for $200 turned around at auction for $5,000 when it was billed as an antique.

To cull out unscrupulous buyers he decided to sign all of his pieces to keep that from happening again. He found a ready market for his contemporary pieces. Since Tom and his wife have just recently moved to the area, he does not presently have a place to view his work locally. His carvings, however, may be viewed on his website

Thomas Langan Credits

His whistling Swan is in the permanent collection of the Museum of American Folk Art in Manhattan. His work has gone on world tour with an exhibition at the Smithsonian Institute and American embassies in Moscow and Bolivia.

* Film Documentary:  “Art in America”

* Commissions: General Foods Corp; Carillon Importers (Absolute Vodka); Merrill-   Lynch

* Private Collections:  Robert Bishop;  William J. Casey; John Cleese; Roger Karas; Penny Marshall; Charles Wysocki; Casper Wineberger.

* Publications: Country Home Magazine; The Absolut Book;

New York Times magazine; Newsday; American Folk Art of the 20th Century; American Country; Weathervanes; Coastal Living.